In Texas, Pattern of Arrest for 17-Year-Olds Is Closer to Juveniles than to Adults

Texas is one of seven states that automatically classify 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system.

That’s important because once a 17-year-old enters the courtroom as an adult, they are cut off from the stated rehabilitative goals and resources of the juvenile justice system. They will face harsher penalties in criminal courts. Despite sharing similar patterns of arrest and booking with younger offenders, 17-year-old offenders face different outcomes in the adult justice system, including considerable health and psychological consequences.

As a result of these disparities, a coalition of advocates — including the ACLU of Texas, Right on Crime, Texans Care for Children, Texas Appleseed and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition — is pushing the state to move 17-year-olds in the state to the juvenile justice system. The Texas state legislature is currently considering a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility in the state from 17 to 18.

A new report from nonprofit advocacy group Texas Appleseed suggests that despite a different set of outcomes in adult court, the patterns of arrest for 17-year-olds may not differ very much when compared to their 16-year-old peers.

The authors of the “Raise the Age: 17-Year-Olds in the Criminal Justice System” report looked at the arrests, jail bookings and case outcomes for 17-year-olds in Texas from 2012 to 2015, using data from Texas justice agencies.

Among the findings:

  • Most 17-year-olds in Texas were arrested for misdemeanor offenses.
  • Arrests of juveniles decreased by 17 percent from 2013 to 2015, the most recent period for which complete data is available.
  • The total number of juvenile arrests is closer to other juveniles than it is 18-year-olds.
  • The top three reason why 17-year-olds were arrested included theft (20.8 percent of offenses), drug possession (19.1 percent), and assault (10.8%).
  • Marijuana possession represented the cause of a majority of drug-related arrests, as well as 35.9 percent of all arrests of 17-year-olds by school police officers in the Houston area.
  • Possession of marijuana (19.3 percent) and theft (18.1 percent) represent the two leading causes of jail bookings of 17-year-olds in a random sampling of Texas counties.

To read the brief from Texas Appleseed, click here.

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